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Craft a roadmap

The classic expression of product strategy is a roadmap, which acts as a bridge between your strategic vision and your backlog of daily tasks. The roadmap communicates the problems the team will be focused on solving to achieve the larger vision and goals and what they hope to accomplish. An agile roadmap conveys the sequence of work the team plans to take on, but not the exact timing.

Because we are agile in our approach, the roadmap will evolve throughout the life of any product you are working on, but should always represent the latest strategic thinking. It’s important for everyone to understand that a roadmap is not a promise: it is a prediction, subject to change and created with the best available, yet imperfect, information.

While the process of roadmapping may look different at the start of a product than for ongoing development, it is always important to make the roadmap public. This allows you to communicate with those who may be impacted by the work so they can anticipate the changes you are planning and provide input that can improve your plans. Roadmaps can take many forms, so design the structure and presentation of your roadmap to meet the specific needs of your product’s internal and external stakeholders.

Considerations: A good roadmap…

  • Is a plausible plan for achieving long-term goals that informs a pragmatic plan for achieving short-term goals

  • Is higher fidelity in the short term, and fuzzier the further out it goes

  • Defines short-term priorities clearly enough that the value to be delivered is clear and it is possible to estimate the level of effort needed to achieve the goals

  • Surfaces known dependencies and risks

  • Tracks back to measurable outcomes (metrics) that support the strategy and vision

  • Makes the team’s strategy and focus easily understandable to key stakeholders, who are then able to explain it to others

Activities: How to get there

  • Determine what information your roadmap needs to communicate and to whom.

  • Brainstorm items (e.g., customer promises, capabilities) that could help achieve the vision and strategy. Phrase in the form of problems you are trying to address or outcomes you are trying to achieve, rather than features or solutions.

  • Prioritize with the partner to define major milestones and determine what will be worked on first, next, and later.

  • Consider how to increase your confidence by prototyping and testing before fully building.

  • For the work that will be taken on first, identify and prioritize sub-goals and tasks (or features) with the partner that are estimable and actionable.

  • Create a ‘to-be’ user journey to help stakeholders visualize the planned scope.

  • Identify risks and dependencies, as well as mitigation measures.

  • Create a communication plan to regularly review and update the roadmap.

Incorporation: What to do next

  • You may find it helpful to complement the strategic roadmap with a more tactical view to inform the day-to-day work of the product team.

  • Develop an actionable backlog to achieve the immediate-term priorities on the roadmap.

  • Adjust the roadmap based on validated learning, feedback, and new information throughout development and communicate changes.

Resources

  • What is a roadmap: A 20-minute video that covers contentious aspects of roadmaps, demonstrates different visual forms of roadmaps, and explains best practices and essential components, along with a blog post further describing theme-based roadmaps.

  • How to craft a roadmap [1]: An overview of what a roadmap is, how it connects to the vision, strategy (customer promises), and backlog, and how to start building it out, along with a template for an associated workshop.

  • How to craft a roadmap [2]: Examples of roadmaps, the key activities used to develop them, and lessons learned.

  • How to craft a roadmap [3]: Guidance on how to maintain and update a roadmap for an existing product rather than a new one.

  • Examples of roadmaps: Additional examples of strategic and tactical roadmaps here, here, and here.

  • Selecting a first slice [1]: Guidance for selecting an initial project focus that aligns with the partner’s goals when their major strategic question is “how to start?”

  • Selecting a first slice [2]: Example of criteria developed to help a partner strategically select what major piece of work to focus on first, based on the desired business/mission impact, technical goals, and organization dynamics.

  • Evaluating roadmap items: Questions to consider when deciding what items to place on your roadmap.

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18F Product Guide is a product of GSA’s Technology Transformation Services, and is managed by 18F.

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